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American Forces Press Service

Human Rights Expert Accepts U.S. Offer to Visit Guantanamo

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2005 A human rights specialist from Europe has accepted the U. S. offer to visit the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba, a senior Defense Department official said here today.

Anne-Marie Lizin, a Belgian politician and a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will be able to tour the facility and ask questions of its command and staff, but she'll not be permitted to visit with detainees, DoD spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters.

"She'll have access similarly to what you guys have when you go down there and observe our operations," Whitman told the reporters. He said he didn't know when Lizin, a member of Belgium's parliament and a human rights expert, would visit Guantanamo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, Whitman said, is the only organization that's allowed to conduct interviews with the detainees. About 500 detainees are housed at Guantanamo today, according to officials.

"The ICRC remains the entity that has the privilege and the responsibilities of interfacing directly with the detainees," Whitman said. The ICRC has conducted routine visits to the Guantanamo detention facility since it opened in 2002. It releases its findings of those visits only to the United States.

The Defense Department had announced the U.S. government's decision to extend its invitation to Lizin in a news release Dec. 9.

"Although department policy does not provide for such visits to military detention facilities, the department has determined on an exceptional basis to extend this invitation," the DoD release stated. "The department strives for transparency in our operations to the extent possible in light of security and operational requirements and the need to ensure the safety of our forces."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe can trace its beginning to the 1970s during the Cold War. Its predecessor, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, was established in 1972 to foster dialogue in Europe between East and West. Today the OSCE has 55 members, including the United States.

The U.S. government provides a multiagency OSCE liaison team, with representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and other agencies, according to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE's Web site.

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